Themes and Meanings

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

The title of the collection in which this story was first published in English, The War of Time (1970), illuminates Alejo Carpentier’s ideas. Many of his other works are also studies in time. They often show the relentlessness of time on human beings, and one way to look at this particular story is the way in which time works in the life of Don Marcial.

Carpentier has created Don Marcial as an unexceptional person, which allows him to become an allegorical figure. Marcial moves from death to birth undergoing the same experiences of all human beings. These experiences include the anxiety of the teenage years as well as the decrepitude of old age when he signs away his possessions to the attorneys. Interest is sustained because everything is in reverse. The action flows like a film set for rewind, so even the most common event is seen from a different point of view. This is one of Carpentier’s goals—to see the common events of human lives from a fresh, new perspective.

Additionally, Carpentier believes that both history and time are cyclical and even unreal. As a revolutionary, both as an artist and in his politics, he considers that events create effects that result in causes that create effects, over and over again. This lack of any unusual quality in Don Marcial’s life makes him an Everyman. These same kinds of events can occur an infinite number of times in an infinite number of lives. Nothing suggests a finality to this story. If there is a journey back to the source, then the very existence of a source implies everything can begin all over again; the cycle continues.

Dividing the story into thirteen parts is another way to examine time. Conventional time is told on a clock divided into twelve parts, so the existence of a thirteenth part suggests there is...

(The entire section is 739 words.)